WILLMAR -- Ward 2 City Council member Ron Christianson says he wants to be where the decisions affecting his block, his ward and his city are made.
"I'm here to serve the people and to be a spokesman for them,'' Christianson said. "I'm the kind of guy that's not afraid to ask the questions. People know me by that. If they're happy with me serving, I'll probably get voted in.''
Christianson, who first ran in 1994 and is completing his 16th year on the council, is being challenged by Andrew Bjur.
They are running in the Nov. 2 general election for a seat representing Ward 2 in the southwest quadrant of the city. Council members serve four-year terms.
"Now that I've been in there for several years, I have a passion for serving people, for representing my ward. The No. 1 job of a politician to me, especially city council and the mayor, is to listen to people and then formulate policies based upon their concerns and needs,'' he says.
"Too much today is government from the top. I'm trying to remember an ordinance that we've written or a rule or regulation in the city in the past five to 10 years that didn't come from staff or from the state mandates. I can think of one thing that came from people and that was the People on Watch came from a COPPS (Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving) meeting.''
Christianson lists a number of challenges and questions facing the city.
He said train noise from locomotive horns has been discussed for the past five years, but he asks what has been done about it. The city has "rainy day funds'' and is sitting financially pretty well compared to other cities, and he asks why some of those funds couldn't be used to create a quiet zone on Seventh Street or 10th Street or Trott Avenue.
He said BNSF has scheduled a quiet zone on Trott Avenue in 2013, up from 2014.
"Here we sit waiting for it and in the meantime people suffer,'' he said. "Train noise is a quality-of-life issue. I often wonder how many people have moved out of the city limits because of train noise. I know it has happened.''
Christianson favors keeping property taxes affordable for all homeowners and business owners while dealing with shrinking budget revenue. No one knows how long state Local Government Aid will be around, he said.
Christianson said he personally does not favor LGA. But if it is reduced, the city will need to discuss prioritizing some services, cutting back on some services, or using rainy day funds.
He said keeping Willmar a safe place to live, work and play and reducing crime is a big priority.
Another challenge will be handling the big turnover expected with city staff and employees in the public works and police departments in next two to five years. Christianson would like to know if a current city employee would be interested and qualified for the administrator's job before a search firm is hired to find a replacement.
A concern discussed in private and at coffee shops is assimilation by the many cultures that are making Willmar their home.
"These people are coming here and if they're going to be longtime residents, they need to assimilate to our ways of life and not wave their own flag in the air,'' he said. "We all know that the easiest way to fail in America is to not speak English. The easiest way to succeed is to speak English and the sky is the limit.''
Christianson said it's important to find good, intelligent people that make the right decisions for the city on various boards and commissions. He said the Westwind low-income housing project is poor planning. Although the zoning allows the twin-home development, Christianson said the development is surrounded by single-family homes.
"You don't plop a low-income housing development amongst middle to upper-scale housing,'' Christianson said. "Another reason I'm running is to make sure those things when they do come up again, I'll put my foot down as hard as I can.''
Regarding storm water problems, Christianson said a few projects have been instigated to keep less water going to 10th and Kandiyohi, and using the old wastewater treatment site for a detention pond will help. "But it's an issue until people don't have water coming into their basement,'' he said.
On two other issues, Christianson wants to be shown that the merger of the city's assessing department with the Kandiyohi County Assessor's Office will save taxpayers money, and he favors sending one or two police officers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement training.